Three Aspects of Kendo
I have been practicing Kendo for 3 years in Japan and I fell very proud to have reached ‘Nidan’ just recently. During this experience I have found that 3 aspects of Kendo were really significant to me: the physical activity, the integration into Japanese society and the Budo.
Throughout my career, I always enjoyed sports in one way or another. In every country that I was stationed I have practiced a sport which was popular and practical in that country. It was swimming, tennis, football, … all depending on the possibilities of the environment. So once arrived in Japan, I had a choice of many sports to practice. I was thrilled to see many sports being exercised in Japan, traditional sports, which also offer a learning path and an doorway to integration in the Japanese society.
My choice was made very quickly and I fell for Kendo.
The physical aspect of practicing Kendo is quite obvious. Together with the training partners one is really engaged into a robust corporal workout. Training and engaging into a Kendo match with the full Kendo Bogu equipment demands serious strength and therefore even more training. A perfect workout to get in shape and to stay in shape.
On top of that, Kendo kata is demanding all the attention of the mind combined with precise body movements which makes this exercise very elegant. Enjoyable to practice and wonderful to watch.
However, when it comes to the real attraction of Kendo… this lies beyond the physical practice.
Kendo for me is an opening in trying to understand and trying to integrate into the Japanese society.
Coming to Japan as an Ambassador is a privilege. Japan as a society is a very old cultural haven with its own long standing traditions. Therefore as a diplomat one has to try to discover and comprehend the countless diverse facets of this beautiful country. So I took up the challenge of engaging myself into the Japanese society. As vigorously as possible.
Again, Kendo proved to be the ideal way to open doors to integration and understanding.
The interaction with Japanese partners, sensei and student alike, is a marvelous assortment of rituals, considerations, etiquette and rules based on a history of tradition finding its way back to the Samurai times. Nonetheless, making it the beauty of it all, still very much present in Japanese daily society. Sometimes oblivious to the ignorant onlooker, even so all subtle part of the daily Japanese interaction. Take the ‘rei’ as an example: practiced all the time incautiously by everyone in Japan, still difficult to implement correctly by an outsider. Respect, consideration and a feeling of gratitude for your partner is where the essence of ‘rei’ lies in Kendo, with the feeling of ‘onegaishimasu’ at the start and ‘arigato gozaimashita’ at the end. This is what Kendo can teach us.
The third aspect of Kendo to me is really essential, but very personal. It is what makes the difference between Budo and any other sport or simply any other activity.
Working to improve oneself is a key aspect in somebody’s daily life. This is very much the case in Japan. Japanese society offers many ways and means in order to reach this goal. One tool to strive for this goal is ‘Ken-do’. ‘Ken’ stands for the sword and ‘do’ is the way to something and somewhere. Especially the latter part of the word is highly significant. ‘Do’ offers the possibility of bringing one towards his goals: by sustained practice, contemplation, cooperation and respect. It is this philosophy that brought me appreciating tremendously the art of Kendo.
In concluding I am very grateful to my fellow kendokas and the All Japan Kendo federation who have been my Sensei during these years in Japan. Above all I have to thank with a deep ‘rei’ Wakimoto Sensei, Ozawa Sensei, Hamada Sensei and Nawata Sensei for their advice, teaching and patience.
H.E Mr.Gunther Sleeuwagen
Ambassador of Belgium to Japan